Smart technologies, dumb people?

Watching modern children growing up in the digital world, I frequently recall the time of my own childhood. You see, I was brought up in the 1990s, the post-USSR period. Those tense times were accompanied by the deficit, empty store shelves, grunts/coupons (tickets to purchase food), kilometer-long shopping lines (quite literally), financial pyramids, frauds, racketeering, unstable economy and society.

Being a small boy, I could not feel and understand the gravity of the situation to the full.

I was happy that I have loving parents and a pair of shorts for summer. The harsh conditions of life in the post-Soviet country hardened people, making them start the creation of the new country and new society. Modern children have dozens of gadgets, devices and different bells and whistles, that simplify the life and make it more pleasurable. As to a device from my childhood, it was a handmade slingshot (a Y-like stick with a rubber band) for shooting stones and small objects. Among my favorite pastimes (other children from our yard would say the same thing) were outdoor activities: soccer, cops and robbers, construction of huts, sneaky exploration of the secured and abandoned areas, and others. Among the indoor leisures, I had books, quiz magazines, and tabletop games.

What are favorite activities of today’s kids? Ah, yes, video games and the kill-time applications for a smartphone. We did not have such technologies at those times, we could not even think about them to come some day. We were thankful for small mercies and tried to exercise and develop on all fronts.

Those years were troublesome and uneasy.

After the coupons and empty shelves, the stores suddenly started to fill with Western goods. The colorful stalls (booths) started to grow like mushrooms after the rain.

We were embarrassed by riches on the shelves of those stalls: colorful bubble gum wraps, chocolate bars, pops, Barbie dolls and other goods that we have never seen before.

I, personally, wanted to rake this stuff off the shelves and taste all of it.

Those times are gone. A new era with its multimillion diversity has created a new society, with zero reflection about knowledge, but with stress about an unfashionable appearance.

They will never understand that feeling of the first bubble gum experience.

Much of what once people could only dream of, for modern youth has become accessible and routine. More specifically, it has become a common practice.

The Internet, video communication, smartphone and other achievements of technology make a person absolutely mobile and independent.

All this left a certain stamp on the character and behavioral pattern of young people.

The subject of our article is like a coin. It has a flipside.

Some would state, that the smarter the technology, the dumber the society, and he would be somewhat right.

The others would take an opposing stance and insist on the fact, that the society develops simultaneously with the technologies. This statement is also somewhat right.

It was already written somewhere above, that technologies make life simpler, handier and enjoyable. We can do everything with the help of our gadgets and internet: online banking, navigation, messaging, ordering food and taxi, booking a plane ticket, and even doing business.

Take away the smartphone from the addicted user. What do you expect to see? Yes, he’s lost his autonomous abilities.

Technology gives us access to the infinite knowledge, but we do not retain it, we just consume it when it is needed.

Whenever we need some information, we Google it, don’t we?

The same thing happens in other spheres of our lives.

For instance, we all know that Smart Home is a great deal. Smart systems offer their owners automated services, self-maintenance. All you need a smart system to work is update the software and connect your house to the web. The householders need neither learn receipts of dishes nor practice knowledge in the kitchen, because the Smart Home can cook and bake through a button. Ah, convenience…

Consider the primitive for today auto-complete function in smartphones. You’d wonder what’s about it?

The essence of this harmless function is to complete the word you type in a message. People forget the spelling of the words because they have no need to memorize them. Why should they, when they have an auto-complete?

This fact today is known as the “Google effect”. Quite a substantial term, isn’t it?

A recent research conducted by Kaspersky Lab, states, that ~90% of people suffer from “digital amnesia”. The research provides statistics gathered through the survey, which shows us, that ~70% of people do not know their children’s phone numbers, and ~50% have not memorized their spouse’s number.

I recall my school times. I did remember all my friends’ home numbers by heart.

Now, I do not remember my friends’ mobile numbers, cause I don’t need to. Why should I, if my smartphone holds this information?

That is “Google effect”. We do not commit data to our memory because we are just a click away from it. The web serves as a data storage for our own memory.

The Kaspersky Labs involved Dr. Maria Wimber, a lecturer at the University of Birmingham’s School of Psychology into the research. Dr. Wimber states, that “the internet simply changes our attitude to information and the way we store it. According to Maria’s idea, we are good at remembering the sources of the needed information. It is fair that we do not even try to store data in our memory just like we used to because we are confident that the internet knows everything”.

This condition extends to photos. In 2003, a Fairfield University has conducted a study, which proves, that taking photos cuts down our memories. The participants of the survey were asked to examine the museum. Those participants, who took photos of objects, memorized fewer objects and details than those who simply observed them.

What will ensue from this? Constantly looking at the world through the objective may result into trusting the memories to smartphones. Hence, we will pay less attention to our life.

Being a schoolboy, I accustomed myself to reading books. Different ones: from encyclopedias and fact books to literature.

Reading widens the outlook of a person, develops the imagination, enriches the inner world, makes him smarter and positively affects memory.

Reading books increases the vocabulary of a person, contributes to the development of a clearer thinking, which makes it possible to formulate and express thoughts more exactly.

If we decide to conduct a survey on the streets and ask people simple questions, they will likely not answer them (without a smartphone), and if they do, their thinking cap will be messed up. Numerous videos on youtube show us, that even if people know the answer, it is hard for them to formulate the answer. It is because people are slowly getting out of the habit to pit wits.

Recall the movie “The Silence of the Lambs”. If you remember the film, you might also remember the moment, when Clarice Starling first met Dr. Lecter in prison. The walls of Hannibal’s ward were hung around with detailed pencil drawings of the city of Florence with its cathedrals and monuments.

When Clarice asked Dr. Lecter what did he drew from, he answered: “Florence is in my memory palace. My palace is vast, even by medieval standards”.

Though “The Silence of the Lambs” is just a fiction, the broadness and largeness of our memory are not fiction.

It would be fair to ask the following question: Would a modern man be able to depict the Florence with its buildings and details? The answer is obvious, and it is NO.

Regretfully, today the majority of people can “boast” of a small and poor room of memory, not a palace at all.

Our personal knowledge gets poorer along with technology getting smarter. We are not creating rich connections in our minds, therefore are not creating knowledge. The more things we know and remember, the more connections we create, and the more interesting our thoughts are.

According to the Raymond Kurzweil’s forecasts, soon, the AI will excel our intelligence, and the humanity will need to be connected with the AI through the neuro lace. This will lead to the world, where we won’t need our own memory and our own intelligence, cause we all will be connected to a cloud service.

An incubator of cloud-driven slaves.

Our overreliance on technology is quite riskful, and we should reconsider our approach to technologies and knowledge.

We depend more on our technologies than ever before — but we can do more than ever before. Technology has made us more capable and more productive. The only thing that technology cannot do is to make us even a bit wiser.

In the end of the article, the old adage applies:

I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.

© Albert Einstein

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